For a People who has faced extinction at the hands of tyrants who have publicly proclaimed their intention to rid their nation (or more lately, the world) of Jews more than once, and who has watched the world crack a yawn and not lift a finger to help us, Jews, and especially those of us under the nuclear gun in Israel, are not too keen to play chicken with Iran's Ahmadinijhad.
The German Jews were fully assimilated nationals of Germany. Many of the men had fought for the Kaiser and their country in World War One. They believed, as cultured, educated and enlightened Westerners, that the barbarism Hitler was preaching was simply an anachronistic appeal to the German Street, beset by financial failure, soaring inflation and post-war resentments.
"But we're Germans," they assured each other and themselves. But they were slaughtered as Jews, stripped of their citizenship and reminded yet again that the Jew was always a foreigner in Europe, always an Asiatic, always The Other against which Christian triumphalism and German racism played out.
There used to be a poster in the States that read, "Being Paranoid Doesn't Mean That They're Not Really Out To Get You." It's a sentiment that many Israelis believe reflects the reality of life here.
I'm not even sure I can describe the Israeli world-view as paranoid. Rather, it is realistic (current crop of politicos excepted--Olmert & Co. are delusional). The Jews realized in the 1920s that Arab xenophobia, fed by Haj Amin el Husseini's venomous diatribes, was leading to mass murder and the British Mandatory Power in charge of things here simply looked the other way. After all, el Husseini was their appointment, so why would they take action to protect a bunch of Jews? Riots and murders of the 1920s and the 1930s resulted in large British yawns of indifference and a very British conclusion that the best thing to do would be to kick the Jews out of their homes in places like Hebron, rather than actually police the country and do something about el Husseini's incitements to murder.
While the British armed the Arab Legion and other irregulars to the teeth in 1947 and 1948, the rest of the world yawned again, wished the nascent State of Israel "good luck over there," and watched us get invaded by neighbors who loudly proclaimed their intention to kill every Jew in the land. Even the United States didn't really give a fig, tied up in the Cold War with Russia, until after 1967-- then when Israel beat off Russia's pawns (Syria and Egypt) the U.S. suddenly started to pay attention and decided that Israel might have its uses. The American Cold War Doctrine at the time was "Containment" -- no outright conflict with Russia, but little proxy wars all over the place fought by other countries were all right.
Unfortunately, Israel became the U.S. proxy by default -- Syria and Egypt opened their ports, their military bases and their training academies to Russian 'advisors' and under the rubric of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend,' the U.S. stopped looking askance at Israel and began to see us as useful idiots for containing Russian ambition in the neighborhood.
But it is instructive to remember that immediately prior to the Six Day War, the United States couldn't be bothered to intervene when the Straits of Tiran were closed and Egypt moved its army up to Gaza--the U.S. was too busy with something called "Viet Nam" and basically told Israel "You're on your own--good luck."
Israelis know this. The Arab and popular Western misconception that Israel has always been America's buddy is simply not true. Nations don't have friends--nations have interests, one diplomat put it baldly. Israel was a U.S. interest only for as long as it took to cap Soviet ambitions in the neighborhood. Now that the U.S. has a different agenda (including such ego-boosting legacies as being the "only U.S. president who could bring peace to the Middle East"--that always tantalizing carrot) Israel and Israeli concerns and fears, are more of an obstacle to U.S. plans.
Hence, Israeli fears of being abandoned once again by the world when Ahmadinijhad sends nuclear-tipped missiles towards Tel Aviv are not solely the product of paranoia. Those fears are based on a long history of being killed by Gentiles while other Gentiles have stood by and done nothing.
This is why some people are seriously considering bombing Iran.
Despite my awareness of this history, despite my firm belief that the West will simply ignore Tehran's belligerence as long as it is directly only against Israel,
I am firmly opposed to bombing Iran.
Why? Because everything I first learned about Iran and Islam I learned from Masoudah Ayatollahi. She was my roommate and friend in college. She was from Tehran, a graduate student at my university, and both devoutly Moslem and very western at the same time. She dressed like a university student then -- jeans and long-sleeved T-shirts. She fasted during Ramadan. She missed her family terribly and called them weekly. Our house was always filled with Iranian students who were her friends. She and I shared a household prohibition against cooking pork, and I defended her prohibition of cooking with wine (unheard of in California) on the ground of consistency--no picking and choosing of religious dietary restrictions. She was kind, beautiful, knowledgeable, devoted to her family and to her country.
But not to the Shah. I heard enough about the secret police system under the Shah that I could appreciate the students' desire for an Islamic Republic. I also understood from these same students that what today is called the Islamic Republic was not at all what they had in mind.....a dictatorship by Mullah is really no different than a dictatorship by Shah.
While in school with us in California, she met and married another Iranian graduate student. They started a family, and returned to Iran. The last thing I heard from them was that he had taken his family to Libya to work as a chemical engineer there, in order to avoid his boys being swept up as "volunteers" to clear mine fields in the Iran-Iraq War.
I'm sure they returned to Iran. Her family is in Tehran; his family is in Isfahan. Do they want a country that isn't a puppet of some Great Power? Yes. Did they think the Islamic Revolution would replace the Shah's secret police with the mullahs' secret police? No. Naive? Maybe--but students are always more optimistic about change than those of us who have lived long enough to be wary of it.
All I know is that Masoudah and her family live somewhere in Iran. I don't want them hurt. I don't want us hurt.
Knowing Masoudah, knowing her friends, I have perhaps more hope in the Iranian people than those Israelis who haven't known any of them. Certainly my group of Iranians isn't representative of all Iranians--not everyone learned English and studied abroad--but what I learned from them in those years gives me hope today that the Iranian people themselves don't have a burning desire to commit genocide in the name of the Revolution.
Despite the odious silence of the gentile world down the centuries in the face of pogroms, expulsions, riots and mass murder on an unimaginable scale, I have faith in the Master of the Universe that He will not allow us to perish.....and I know Masoudah has faith in the Merciful One that He will watch over her family, her children and her nation.
I would like to believe that Jews and Iranians both can give more credit to their faith in the Almighty than to the doomsday predictions of their leadership, and that we can restrain ourselves from giving in to our fears, and refrain from the perhaps unrecoverable blunder of a military attack.